Food and camping go hand in hand for me. I love having time to try different camp food recipes when I’m out in the wild. And experimenting with different methods of cooking camping food is loads of fun. But I also like to approach my camp cooking with consideration and not just slop the easiest thing into a bowl and hope it will fill a gap. Having good nutritious food is really important to me and so I like my backpacking food to be as good as something I would serve at home. But coming up with a good variety of healthy and tasty backpacking food ideas can be something of a challenge. There are a fair few factors that need to be taken into consideration when choosing food and recipes, and so a little thought can go a long way when planning a backpacking food menu.
8 things great backpacking food should be
At the end of the day, you just need to consume enough fuel to get you from A to B without getting ill and without running out of energy. But there’s so much more to backpacking food than that. If possible, it should also be:
This can often get put to the bottom of the pile for lightweight backpackers looking to keep their packs as light as possible. But aside from the temporary enjoyment one gets from tucking into delicious food, the anticipation of a great tasting meal to look forward to at the end of a hard day of trekking can also do wonders for morale. It can be hugely motivational and a deserved reward.
You want to finish every backpacking meal feeling full and satisfied. There’s nothing worse than looking at your empty plate with hours until breakfast and a grumbling stomach. You should go to bed with a full belly to stop you from waking up hungry in the night. It will also help to keep you warm at night if you are camping in cool temperatures.
3Light to carry
For those hiking for days or weeks at a time without the chance to stock up on backpacking food supplies, having food that is as light as possible is essential. It also needs to be fairly compact so as not fill your whole bag.
How light? Most backpackers will be fine carrying around 1.5lb (700g) of food per day.
The higher the calorie content, the less you will need to eat. And the less you need to eat, the less you will have to carry!
How high? If you can aim for around 125 calories per oz (30g), then 3000 calories per day should be enough if you are hiking moderate distances. Obviously this is very dependent on your specific needs and levels of exertion etc, and it is also quite difficult to achieve unless you make a concerted effort to choose calorie dense food.
5Easy to cook
The last thing you will want to be doing after a gruelling day on the trail is spending hours over cooking a really intricate dinner. You also won’t have enough pans for anything complicated. So keep is as simple as possible. This is especially important if you are hiking in bad or cold conditions. Everything becomes more difficult in gloved hands!
6Quick to cook
As with ease, the quicker you can cook your backpacking meal the better. Cooking time will also have a big effect on how much fuel you will need to carry, which will only add more to the weight of your pack. Quick and simple is key.
It’s all too easy to let the nutritional content of your backpacking meals go out the window in favour of processed boil-in-the-bag type ready-meals. There is definitely a place for these on your backpacking menu, but it’s also important to ensure your meals have the right nutrition that you need. Your immune system will be taking a battering when hiking for days on end on below average sleep and it’s not the time to be missing out on key vitamins.
With so many other things to consider when trying to come up with great backpacking food ideas, it’s inevitable that you will end up eating the same thing more than once. But it’s important to keep things as varied as possible, from a nutritional point of view as much as for your enjoyment levels.
Backpacking food ideas
Now that’s a lot of boxes to tick and it doesn’t even take into consideration the cost of your backpacking food – which let’s face it, should ideally be as low as possible. So to help you on your way, these backpacking food ideas include most, if not all, of the things that great backpacking food should be.
Freeze dried backpacking food
This is by far the easiest route to go down when it comes to backpacking food preparation, both before and during your trip. You simply add hot water and eat! Choosing pre-made meals however, is also the most expensive way to feed yourself on a backpacking trip. But if you’re not bothered about the cost, or you simply don’t have the time or inclination to prepare your own lightweight backpacking meals, then you will love the variety and tastiness of many of the pre-made meals that are available.
Backpacker’s Pantry do a great selection of nutritious, high quality and lightweight backpacking meals. Their range includes some gluten free and vegan options too. Other Backpacker’s Pantry breakfast options include Huevos Rancheros, omelets and a variety of different oatmeals.
Freeze dried fruit is a healthy way to get some sugar on board without going down the processed sugar route. Super lightweight and great to nibble on as you hike.
Mountain House have an excellent reputation for creating really delicious backpacking meals, and this Stroganoff is a huge favourite as a lightweight and easy dinner. To make things a little more cost effective, they also offer a selection bucket of varied meals.
Ingredients: Harmony House Backpacking Kit
If you prefer making up your own freeze dried backpacking food, then this Harmony House kit includes an excellent selection of vegetables, lentils and beans. Some of the ingredients take a little longer to rehydrate than the pre-made meals, but worth it if you like to know exactly what you’re eating.
Equipment: Food dehydrator
If you are a frequent hiker and are serious about eating unprocessed and clean backpacking meals, then investing in a food dehydrator would be well worth it. A huge financial saving in the long run too.
The best backpacking food
For those who want to keep their backpacking meals as clean and healthy as possible, time and thought needs to be put into planning and preparing each meal. Making your own meals, instead of going down the ready-made route, will also make things much more affordable. So make sure you choose the best ingredients for your backpacking meals and hopefully they will turn out as tasty as they are light and nutritious.
Backpacking breakfast ideas
Oatmeal is pretty hard to beat when it comes to backpacking breakfasts. It’s lightweight, nutritious, super quick to cook, and with a few high protein trimmings, makes for the perfect start to a day on the trail. Peshwari porridge is a delicious regular on our backpacking menu. Other good backpacking food ideas for breakfast include:
- Instant grits can be served with any of the toppings that you would add to oatmeal, and is a good way to get some breakfast variety.
- Quinoa takes a little longer to cook than oatmeal, but is worth the wait – especially if you are struggling to get enough protein in your backpacking diet.
- Nuts and dried fruit are best served as an oatmeal topping, but are also good on their own as a quick breakfast snack if you need to get moving early.
- Granola bars are the ultimate lazy backpackers’ best friend and will provide just about enough energy to get you going in the morning if you just can’t be bothered to cook!
Backpacking snack ideas
Fill your pockets with easy snacks to gobble on the go. Having yummy snacks at your fingertips will keep your spirits high, not to mention your energy levels. And if it’s cold, keeping your calories topped up will also help to keep you warm. Here are some backpacking food ideas that make perfect snacks:
Excellent calorie to weight ratio and with good levels of protein and fat. Save weight and add convenience by bringing sachets instead of a heavy jar.
Also known as trail mix, and probably the best snack for backpacking, as the name suggests! Mix your favourite nuts, dried fruit and cheeky bits of candy. (M&Ms work very well!).
Not as healthy as granola bars or trail mix, but a great high calorie treat all the same. Those nuts must count for something right? Enjoy!
A good choice for vegetarians and vegans to up their protein levels. Cliff bars have decent ingredients in them and lots of added vitamins too.
A high calorie, lightweight snack that will give you a good sugar rush as well as a little extra protein.
Dates are especially great at providing a sweet healthy snack. With very few fresh vegetables in your diet, snacking on dried fruit will also help to keep your toilet stops regular!
Backpacking lunch ideas
Backpacking lunches can often be the most tricky to plan. If you plan to stop and get the camping stove out, then things become much more straightforward as you can just boil up some water and make a quick mac and cheese or noodle soup. But most hikers like to keep lunch breaks short and simple, and often don’t want to waste fuel on a third hot meal each day. So here are some of the best backpacking food ideas for on-the-go lunches that will also provide plenty of fuel:
- Bagels are very dense and packed full of calories. The raisin and cinnamon flavour are also edible without much of a filling.
- Tortillas weigh next to nothing and also take up very little space in your pack. Great to mop up your dinner with or as a lunchtime wrap.
- Tuna pouches make great sandwich fillers and provide good levels of protein.
- Cheese and chorizo are both full of fat, protein and flavour, and provide excellent high calorie fuel. They will also last a long time if kept out of the sun.
DIY backpacking meals
The basis of your evening meal needs to be high in carbohydrate to ensure that you refuel sufficiently, ready for the next day. Some excellent, quick to cook and lightweight carbohydrates that are perfect for your evening backpacking meals include:
- Instant rice
- Instant noodles
- Instant mashed potato
With a little ‘at home’ experimentation there are some yummy recipes that work really well with such simple ingredients. This Orzo Pilaf is a big favourite on our backpacking menu and is super easy to cook on a backpacking stove.
Of all the shapes in the pasta family, Orzo is one of the best for backpacking meals due to its speedy cooking time. Its similarities to rice lends itself nicely to being cooked as Pilaf . The sweetness of the cranberries, which set off the subtle bitterness of the sundried tomatoes, leaves a rounded and full flavoured dish akin to it’s Middle Eastern cousin. Find yourself a good organic stock cube like Kallo to keep it squeakily clean and deliciously simple.
- 100g Orzo
- ½ stock cube
- 4 dried sundried tomatoes
- 1 handful of dried cranberries
- 1 handful of mixed nuts – chopped
- Bring the water to the boil
- Add the orzo and cook for 5 mins
- Add the cranberries, stock cube and chopped sundried tomatoes and stir
- Simmer until all the water has gone and the orzo is al dente
- Take off the heat, stir in the nuts and serve!
Backpacking food tips
- Save weight by eating a big meal on the morning of your first day. Then you will only need to eat one more smaller meal that evening.
- Be strict about your rationing and don’t eat all the fun snacks on day one!
- Make sure you have enough stove fuel to cook all your hot meals.
- If you are making up your own backpacking meals then be sure to label them.
- Organise your meals by day so that you don’t have to get out your entire food store each meal time.
- Some backpackers like to save weight by taking one less meal and making do. But in my experience bringing a little extra is preferable, especially if things don’t end up going totally to plan.